Sometimes games come along that surprise you in a way so pleasant that you look at games in a different light. Games so often now follow a specific mold, whether it be generic male protagonists, routine violence, or canned sci-fi scenarios. Life is Strange is a game that breaks this mold; it is a deliberately based adventure game set in a modern day rural town and features a female protagonist who has the ability to rewind time. I had the opportunity to meet the developers from DONTNOD Entertainment and check out the second episode of the planned five episode series Life is Strange and was thoroughly impressed with their passion and the game itself.
As mentioned Life is Strange features Max, a high school senior who returns to her old hometown after 5 years away and reunites with her childhood friend Chloe. There is tension nearly right away as Max had not stayed in touch with Chloe for various reasons but wants to reconnect now that she is back. Max soon realizes that she has the ability to rewind time and slowly explores the dark nature of the sleepy town of Arcadia Bay while you look for a student who has gone missing. The story is both surreal and grounded with parts of My So Called Life, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files all thrown together to create a compelling narrative that is unlike other games out there today.
Life is Strange is a big departure for Dontnod after their last major game, the action title Remember Me. Both games share the fact that there is a female protagonist and a time rewind mechanic, but aside from that Life is Strange is a complete paradigm shift from Remember Me. In this title the characters and world are realistic, but they are all handpainted given the game a soft look that is stunning in its muted beauty. The backgrounds are vibrant and the characters stand out with a visual flair that is fresh and compelling. Life is Strange is also a very deliberate and measured game, unlike Remember Me, you are generally not rushed to complete a task so you can explore the world and absorb the details DONTNOD has added such as newspaper reports, flyers, postings on boards, and numerous diary and world facts that can be examined and absorbed to flesh out this world.
The second chapter of the game has Max explaining her powers to Chloe in an attempt to let her friend understand what is going on in Max’s life. She is also very concerned about the missing girl from their school, and she and Chloe dig into the disappearance to try and figure out what happened. I will not reveal the choices and scenarios to avoid ruining the story and experience, but there are some interesting dialogue options that flesh out Chloe’s last troubled five years of life. Max also has a chance to try out her time rewind powers in order to prove to Chloe what she can do.
The game is slow based but very memorable and the rewind power gives it a very Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow vibe in that Max remembers everything that happened when she rewinds. This gives her the opportunity to change her choices or dialogue as well as see what happens so she can shape events to her purpose. It is a really cool mechanic and generally not limited by anything except the checkpoint system. You can only rewind as far as the last checkpoint, but there are no limits on how often you can do it. It leads to fun sequences where scenes are pulled back and forward to find clues or just see what happened in other parts of the scene.
Life is Strange will be released in five parts with part two dropping very soon and each subsequent episode should launch 6-8 weeks apart. There is some variance in the time because the developer is analysing the choices people make in previous episodes as well as feedback in forums and messages. This way they can adjust some of the game when possible to suit feedback in a way that should really please the existing fanbase as well as new players of the series. Essentially, while the story is locked in, some of the choices, characters, or environments could be accentuated or reduced depending on what the community says. This is a really cool way to adapt your game and one that is frankly impossible in a standalone title; the episodic nature of the series gives the developer the ability to adapt and change.
Everything about this title oozes charm and personality and, after meeting the developers, it is clear why; they are passionate about this game and world and really want to deliver something special. They poured their heart into this title and continue to do so to great effect. I came away from the demo very eager to try the new chapter in the game as soon as it is released so I can get deeper into the interesting world and characters that DONTNOD have created. Episode one of Life is Strange is available now on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.